Colin Macleod – Right, Wrong & Wicked Laws: How Can Anyone Decide? (#21)

We know that  law sometimes does wonderful things. But we also know that law sometimes does terrible things. ~ Colin Macleod

Professor Colin Macleod (web) is a philosopher who spends a lot of time thinking about law. He is the Chair of the Philosophy Department and a Professor of Law at the University of Victoria.

It’s not every day that lawyers get to talk about law with a professional philosopher. So when that opportunity comes along, you have to make the most of it and ask big questions about law and justice. 

Is a statute good, or is it evil? How will we know? What about a court decision? What will tell us whether it’s moral or immoral? How do we get to the right answer? Is there even a right answer? 

Colin is happy to dive right in on these questions. In fact, he encourages legal professionals to make these exact inquiries. He’s also happy to share some of the theories and models from philosophy and jurisprudence to shine a light on the different paths we can try as we hunt for answers. 

From the Third Reich, to medically assisted dying, to same-sex marriage, to self-driving cars, Colin makes a compelling case for thinking about the nature of law in a way that isn’t just academic and abstract; it can help get us contend with big legal questions in the real world of law. 

Topics Covered

  1. Philosophy of law
  2. Jurisprudence
  3. The role of courts
  4. The relationship between politics, morality and law
  5. The fluid nature of politics, morality and law over time
  6. The fallibility of legal reason
  7. Legal pluralism

Listen to “21 Colin Macleod – Right, Wrong & Wicked Laws: How Can Anyone Decide?” on Spreaker.

The Quiz for this episode is here.

Pre-approved by the Law Society of BC for 2.0 hours of CPD credits.

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Show Notes


6:00 Darin’s experience with a jurisprudence class

9:00 Ronald Dworkin

10:45 Are there right answers in law?

11:20 Objective truths

11:40 Law as a complex social phenomenon

14:00 How Colin would describe his work at a cocktail party

15:40 Colin’s path into philosophy

17:45 Colin’s path into jurisprudence

18:40 Colin’s book on Ronald Dworkin – Liberalism, Justice and Markets: A Critique of Liberal Equality

21:06 Colin’s working definition of jurisprudence or philosophy of law

23:20 Colin’s pitch for why legal professionals should care about questions of jurisprudence or philosophy of law

28:00 Legal controversies where it appears there are 2 (or more) right answers

34:40 Same-sex marriage as an illustration of changing legal views on what appears to be right or correct 

36:10 Disagreements among judges

38:15 American Legal Realism

38:30 Oliver Wendell Holmes 

40:33 Law should not be guided by the dead hand of the past

41:00 Medically assisted dying 

43:40 Prof. John Russell

46:40 What Colin would say to the Bench of the Supreme Court of Canada

49:00 Bad legal reasoning

50:30 Is law an extension of our political world? 

59:30 Exploring the underpinnings of our own views on a principled basis

1:01:00 Reflecting on human fallibilities, and what’s at stake in taking views that can’t withstand scrutiny on a principled basis

1:05:00 Law and the treatment of animals

1:08:00 Following or upholding the law when it seems morally wrong or inappropriate on a principled basis

1:09:00 Legal positivism

1:13:00 Crises of legal conscience in a pre-emancipation legal context

1:18:00 Does legal reasoning also require reasoning about justice and morality? 

1:18:45 Wicked legal systems

1:20:00 Legal Hercules / Judge Hercules

1:21:10 Dworkin’s Chain Novel

1:24:20 Jurisprudence and casuistry (Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History – The Standard Case)

1:30:30 Legal pluralism, multiple legal systems and jurisprudence

1:33:30 Postcolonial legal theory

1:44:00 The Trolley Problem and self-driving cars

1:45:00 Expert Systems in Law: A Jurisprudential Approach to Artificial Intelligence and Legal Reasoning by Richard Susskind

1:48:54 How Colin defines success for himself

1:50:30 Toughest choice or sacrifice Colin made to get where he is today

1:52:15 If he had to do a week’s worth of work in 3 hours

1:52:46 Special things Colin does to look after himself

1:53:25 Resources for busy people who want to learn more: Stanford Dictionary of Philosophy, HLA Hart’s The Concept of Law

1:55:00 Before my work in the law is done, I want to…

1:55:35 Best book(s) he read in the last year

1:56:40 Utopophobia by David Estlund

1:57:30 Milkman by Anna Burns

1:57:45 Favourite podcasts: 99% Invisible, The Daily, Revisionist History, The Age of Persuasion, Serial, Song Exploder, The Moth, Ask me Another

1:59:00 Colin’s University of Victoria faculty page

1:59:52 Colin’s asks or calls to action for listeners

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